Eliot Seide: Minnesota’s moment to rebuild the middle class

Eliot Seide

Eliot Seide

Minnesota is poised to do great things this year, the first time in 22 years that Democrats control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. This is Minnesota’s moment to fix the budget, raise fair revenue, and build an economy that grows good jobs and the middle class.

Union members campaigned hard to win this trifecta. But we can’t bet on getting what workers need unless we make our voices heard. Our state Capitol is filled with a crop of new legislators who we need to meet. We need to make sure they understand that Minnesota is at its best when the middle class is strong. That’s why we need a budget focused on improving the lives of middle-class families with investments in education, a strong economy, and a fair tax system.

Gov. Dayton’s “Budget for a Better Minnesota” is a good start. It raises more than $2 billion in new revenue to begin restoring $5 billion of cuts made during the last four years. His budget is honest, responsible, and fair. He’s honest about what he wants to buy with his budget, and he’s courageous about how he wants to pay for it. No more kicking the deficit down the road. No more gimmicks and games that pass the buck to future generations.

Here’s how Gov. Dayton’s budget helps the middle class:

• Property tax relief. The governor’s budget provides a property tax rebate of up to $500 for homeowners. Add on new investments in Local Government Aid ($80 million) and County Program Aid ($40 million), and it will greatly reduce the property tax burden on middle-class families.

• Build a strong economy. The governor’s budget will strengthen our state’s economy by building and maintaining roads, bridges and public transit. Those infrastructure projects will create good jobs and bring new businesses here.

• Reinvest in education. The governor’s budget delivers a significant increase in direct student aid for higher education and makes needed investments in the MnSCU system and the University of Minnesota ($80 million each) to train our workforce for the jobs of the future. His budget also provides quality early learning scholarships for 10,000 children, optional all-day kindergarten for 46,000 kids, and increases K-12 funding by $52 per student.

• Create a fair tax system. Minnesota’s tax system is rigged to favor rich individuals and big corporations, while shifting their burden onto the middle class. No more! The governor’s budget asks the richest 2 percent to pay their fair share. His budget also closes corporate tax loopholes and lowers the state sales tax rate 20 percent, while extending the sales tax to high-priced clothing items over $100.

The governor’s budget is the first word – but not the final word. The governor knows none of us is as smart as all of us. We all need to work together to make the budget better and to move the state forward.

Budgets are not just balance sheets. They’re about our values. As Minnesotans, we expect fairness, responsibility and honesty.  We expect a growing economy and a prosperous middle class. It’s time to show Minnesota what real progress looks like – when everyone pays their fair share.

– Eliot Seide is executive director of AFSCME Council 5, a union of 43,000 Minnesota workers.

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